A review by Nalini Haynes
The End of All Things is the 6th book in the Old Man’s War series by John Scalzi and the first in this series that I’ve read; Scalzi explains everything so thoroughly I didn’t feel I’d missed anything by not reading the previous novels.
Written as four novellas with sections called “parts” instead of chapters, The End of All Things is a space opera about humanity confronting the Conclave, an alien federation of planets, and vice versa, with the potential to, well, end all things. At least, to end life as they know it.
Narrated from various points of view across the novellas and parts, The End of All Things explores politics, the military experience and impending doom, starting with Rafe Daquin, a guy with his head in a jar a la Futurama and Anne McCaffrey’s ships. He used to be human but was kidnapped by the Rraey, an alien species with back-bending knees presumably indicating an affinity with the Devil. They put his head in a jar to achieve their nefarious ends.
The point of view shifts between politicians, bureaucrats and military types to explore the story from various points of view, building a picture of this universe and the impetus to entropy, nay, the impetus to doom, that the title implies. I found point of view changes disconcerting because new scenes weren’t sufficiently described and, at least once, there was no indicator of who was speaking until page 2 of that chapter.
The voices of high-level diplomats and bureaucrats and military jar-heads are fairly similar. Jarheads attempt to solve the problems of the world (talking to each other about life, the universe and everything) in a peaceful interlude (?) while waiting for a sniper to shoot them during a police action. At least they don’t wait until they’ve had too much to drink before solving the problems of the world, I guess…
We’re spared Tom Clancy-esque over-expansion of technical details (I loved The Hunt for Red October but those technical chapters were a struggle!), however, Scalzi expounds fictional units of measurement for time and space as if aliens speaking English without translation need distracting obfuscation of measurements to convince readers of their authenticity.
Likewise with Scalzi’s exploration of gender: during what should have been a high-octane rescue mission, he’s side-tracked into discussion of the 6 genders of a particular species, explanation of pronouns and the correct form with which to address the pilot (a minor character). A couple of pages later, alien discussion of the human ambassador’s preference to be called “she” was short, sharp and shiny, conveying the same message in far fewer words. Scalzi has built his career on being a straight-white-male champion of feminism so his intentions are admirable. However, of the two examples cited, the latter was punchy, didn’t detract from the tension as much and was all that was needed. Also, it was amusing. Bonus.
Although the chapter on planet Franklin’s intention to declare independence was overly talky, I loved how the politicians are challenged about who they expected to pay the price for their rebellion: somebody else who they’d send to war on their behalf. For once, Scalzi dumped people in a situation and walked away leaving us to imagine the results: this was delightful.
Scalzi moffats! (To moffat is to tell your audience they’re not smart enough to understand your intent, like not seeing the Emperor’s new clothes.) “Abumwe replied, in the straight-ahead, blunt manner that if you were not smart, you would think was profoundly nondiplomatic” (p.301). This explains why Scalzi wasn’t a consultant for West Wing.
Scalzi isn’t a Machiavelli or a master of subtlety; his strength lies in explaining everything to the reader so there aren’t misunderstandings or missed information as he steadily moves towards the finish, not unlike a steamroller. If you like Star Trek, Stargate (especially Stargate Universe, the TV series for which Scalzi was a consultant) and the myriad of offshoots of Star Wars, then The End of All Things is the novel for you, to tide you over until the next movie. 3 out of 5 stars.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Format: paperback, 378 or 512 pages (depending on which version)
Category: Fiction & related items / Science fiction
Imprint: Tor UK